Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost-3 August AD 2008
The Veil of the Heart
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I say to you, many prophets
and kings have desired to see what you see, and they have not seen it; and
to hear what you hear, but they have not heard it.”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
The “prophets and kings” to whom our Lord refers are the people of the
Old Testament, to whom Almighty God had revealed some but not all of the things
He desired His people to know and to do. Saint Paul alludes to this in this
morning’s epistle when he refers to Moses and “the ministration of death,
which was engraved in letters upon stones.”
The “letters on stones”
can be taken to mean the Ten Commandments, or probably, more correctly, the
entire Law of Moses.
If it seems strange that Saint Paul refers to God’s Law as a “ministration
of death,” we must recognize that it came centuries before the Redemption of
mankind. The people of the Old Testament did not have the opportunities for
receiving God’s graces as we do. The Law of Moses told them what they must not
do-a series of “thou shalt nots”—and it gave them a series of ritual
observances by which they might expiate the guilt of sin-but the Old Law was
very much lacking in the dimension of grace that we receive as adopted sons and
daughters of God under the New Covenant. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “our
sufficiency is from God,” he was implying that the people of the Old Law were
relatively on their own. Elsewhere he would make the distinction the Old and the
New as a distinction between the hired help, and the children of the family-the
hired help receive their pay, but they are not welcomed into the inner circles
of the family.
“The children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses on
account of the transient glory that shone upon it.” If you remember your Old
Testament, you know that when Moses came down from the mountain after conversing
with God, his face was shining so brightly that the people were unable to look
at him. He began to wear a veil over his face so that they would not be blinded
with this light, which seemed to be an earthly reflection of God’s glory.
A few verses later in this same epistle, Paul suggests that a veil remains
over hearts of those who read the Scriptures without repentance, and without
recognizing their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. “But when they shall be
converted to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.”
Through our Redemption on the Cross we are able to enter into this personal,
family-like, relationship with God. The veil is lifted from our hearts, and we
are able to see what the “prophets and kings” of the Old Testament desired
to see. Saint Paul goes on: “the Lord is a Spirit. And where the Spirit of the
Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, beholding the glory of the Lord with open
face, are transformed into His very image ... by the Spirit of the Lord.”
This transformation, of course, takes place through Baptism, and it is
maintained by the various sources of sanctifying grace, which are part of our
spiritual life. We can think of these graces as the gifts of the Father,
bestowed upon His children. They are free gifts for those who choose to live a
life in union with God; a life filled with prayer and the frequent reception of
The one Sacrifice of the Cross, made present in time and place by Holy Mass,
replaces all of the sacrifices of the Old Law. There are no more bulls, and
goats, and we do not sprinkle the ashes of a heifer. The fine wheaten flour of
the old sacrifices has given way to the host which becomes the Body of Christ.
The pure wine of the Passover, the blood of grapes, becomes His Blood.
Are we still bound to observe the moral law of the Old Testament? Of course
we are, for it is the revealed version of what is already written in our hearts.
Our natural reason tells us that there is a Creator whom we must worship; and
tells us that mankind cannot go about stealing, and cheating, and lying, and
beating if it is going to survive. We still have those Commandments which Moses
brought down from the mount, but the veil has been removed from our minds. We
see them not as a harsh collection of rules set for the hired employees, but
rather as an invitation to love God with our “whole hearts, and minds, and
strength, and souls-and our neighbors as ourselves.” If we truly love God and
truly love our neighbor, it must logically follow that we will want to
keep the Commandments.
Understand too, that this concept was already known to the people of the Old
Law. The man who asked Jesus, “Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?”
was a lawyer, an expert in the Law of Moses. Our Lord merely prompted him to
repeat what he already knew: “What is written in the Law? How dost thou read?”
The lawyer’s answer comes almost verbatim from the Old Testament books of
Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But what is new here
is the conception of “Who is my neighbor?”
The people of Israel viewed themselves as members of one great extended
family-they were all the descendants of Abraham, “as numerous as the sands
along the sea shore.” The Mosaic Law directed them to treat one another as
family. One could go all about Israel and Judea and be received with
hospitality, even by complete strangers.
But the Samaritan was an outsider. Centuries before, the Assyrians had made
captives of those in Israel, taking them far away. The Samaritans were
foreigners who replaced them in the lands taken from them. They were sort of
Jewish-they adopted the Jewish religion and Scriptures, but they remained
outsiders, worshipping in their own temple, apart from the one at Jerusalem.
The idea that the Samaritan could be a better neighbor to a Jew than one of
his own kind; better even than a priest or a Levite, was something of a new
concept. Being “neighbors” is a reciprocal relationship-one cannot have
a neighbor without being a neighbor. Our Lord was telling the lawyer that
to gain eternal life he must treat outsiders on par with his own countrymen, as
neighbors-the Samaritans ... the Egyptians, the Babylonians, even the Romans who
currently occupied the land. The veil had to be removed from the heart in order
to see all of God’s children as neighbors.
This is what we must do the gain eternal life: We must love God with our “whole
hearts, and minds, and strength, and souls-and our neighbors as ourselves.”
Sometimes the neighbors may have some strange customs, but we must see them as
God sees them, as sons and daughters whom He wishes to adopt-which would make
them our brothers and sisters.
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” Blessed are the eyes of
those who “shall be converted to the Lord, [and] the veil shall be taken away.”
1. Gospel: Luke x: 23-37.
2. Epistle: 2 Corinthians iii: 4-9.
3. Galatians iv: 22-31.
4. Cf. Exodus xxxiii.
5. 2 Corinthians ibid., v. 16.
6. Ibid., v. 17-18
7. Deuteronomy vi: 5; Leviticus xix: 18.